First Taste: Exclusives at The Oinkster in Hollywood, Open Today

Pork Adobo Burger with garlic aioli & Onion Rings

The long-awaited Hollywood location of Andre Guerrero’s The Oinkster has finally opened. On the east side of Vine, sitting north of Melrose Avenue, the new 3,000-square foot space seats more than 100 people in its open design concept by Design, Bitches and includes two-tops all the way to communal seating – as well as an open air, dog-friendly patio with heat lamps.

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Fall and Full Bar Descend Upon Pitfire Pizza on Fairfax

Apple & Pork Festival, Sprouts ‘n Bacon Pizza, Rumpkin Pie Cocktail, Linguica Ragout (clockwise)

The place known for its consistently great, tasty and reasonable Neopolitan crust with the sides and pasta to match has stepped it up in the booze department – at least at their location on Fairfax. Formerly confined to wine and beer, Pitfire Pizza now has a full liquor license with a fall cocktail menu to debut with the return of a few fall food favorites.

The great thing about their new cocktail menu is that they’ve streamlined it to just a trio of pretty phenomenal seasonals but also Moscow Mules made with Tito’s on tap, a few classics like the Old Fashioned and Negroni, and another trio of customizable sours with your choice of spirit. And they all go for a wallet-happy $8 per cocktail.

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Adam Perry Lang’s Serious Barbecue in the Jimmy Kimmel Live! Back Lot

Serious Barbecue – Pork Shoulder, Beef Ribs

While I have had a lot of close calls, I recently came upon what I can honestly call “the best barbecue” I’ve had in my entire life. And I owe that honor to a summer-long residency by Adam Perry Lang, who currently lives (that’s what the Airstream is for), cooks and feeds serious barbecue seekers on the Jimmy Kimmel Live! backlot in Hollywood.

From now until September 5th, he’ll be serving up his pecan wood-smoked specialties every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for lunch. Everything in this awesome ‘cue is made from scratch (okay, perhaps not the meats), from the charcoal in the Texas burn pit to his 2-ton, custom pit smoker – and even the cutlery, which he literally carves himself.

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Best Bites and Swigs at The UMAMIcatessen

UMAMI Shrimp Burger

I have had four Umami burgers in my life and I have really enjoyed only one of them, which is probably due to the fact that all four were consumed after the quick Umami Burger expansion to Santa Monica, Hollywood and so forth. Thus, I found them to be largely inconsistent.

UMAMIcatessen Interior

Just last week, I passed the La Brea location and there was a line of at least 20 Yelp reviewers people waiting outside to get seated. I gave the same roll eyes that I reserve for those who drive in to my neighborhood expressly for Saturday night bottle service.

But this…”catessen”…is a whole new ballgame. So nothing really prepared me for how much I enjoyed pretty much everything at Adam Fleischman’s UMAMIcatessen friends and family night in Downtown LA. And is the theatre revival on Broadway ever thankful for this pre-performance dining spot, which is basically a 7,000 square foot bazaar furnished with repurposed furniture in the 1929 Art Deco Ninth and Broadway Building. Down the street at a later date we can welcome Two Boots Pizza, Ace Hotel and Clifton’s Cafeteria reopening. The Cure (read: Kosher “style”), Umami Burger, P!GG, Spring for Coffee selections, & a Donut and of course, the fabulous Back Bar all offered tasty treats and swillerific swigs. Top notch.

Wasabi Potato Salad with Sashimi

The best bite of the night was the just-unveiled-that-night Shrimp Burger with Yuzu-Kosho, which embodied that namesake fifth taste in every way. No soggy lettuce, mind you, sat between the buttery, airy buns but a bit of seaweed in keeping with that shrimp bite. It also packs a delicious, slight kick thanks to the yuzu-kosho. Also exclusive to this location was the ever delicious Wasabi Potato Salad topped with Sashimi. It’s ingenius and probably the most refreshing taters you’ll ever have, but I’d be lying if the sashimi isn’t the easiest thing to pick off the appetizer, with my somewhat guiltfully leaving some lonely spuds behind.

Chris Cosentino and a can of lardo

But let me backtrack, here. It can’t be overlooked that P!GG is a welcoming of Chris Cosentino, of San Franciscan fame, into the Los Angeles foray. Don’t forget the Pork in a Can Lardo on crostini nor the Cone O’ Cracklins, the latter of which were delightfully airier than I expected. The Country Pate with cornichons and green peppercorn was pork-solid, as well, and delicious. And don’t forget the “Brainnaise” (whole hog is key), which comes atop P!GG Style Fries. But at the center of the P!GG menu are cured selections from Spain, Italy and the U.S. The Mini Potato Knishes from The Cure were also little bits of pastry heaven. The Matzoh Ball Soup is not to be overlooked, either, since there are crunchy little chicken cracklins dispersed amongst the matzoh. The Corned Beef and Pastrami assessment will have to come at a later date.

9th and Broad Cocktail

And I would be negligent if I didn’t address the delicious cocktails helmed by Adrian Bigg. My favorite was the 9th and Broad, made with Woodford Reserve bourbon, Carpano Antica formula, Apricot liqueur and Jerry Thomas decanter bitters. The essential drink, of course, is the Bourbon Pig, essentially bacon fat washed Bulleit with Angostura, sugar and pig ear garnish.

As for gin lovers, I loved the Red Sapphire, made with Bombay Sapphire gin, St. Vincent raspberry syrup, Earl Grey tea syrup, Maraschino, fresh lemon juice and egg white. Don’t judge a cocktail by its cover, as this was a, yes – light, but perfectly balanced cocktail despite the temptation to dismiss it as a girly drink. So tasty.

& a Donut

Feeling more like beer? Ten draft beers are available for your pleasure. And the Spring for Coffee was a perfect, mid-meal pick-me-up. Now that is really good coffee.

And don’t forget dessert. The beignets were delightful as was the perfectly moist, rich donut.

So get yourself down to the UMAMIcatessen. Your appetite for whole hog, burgers, cocktails and all the extra fixins demands it. It’s really not just about burgers, anymore, and at once worthy of all the hype that surrounds Umami.

All food and drink were hosted.

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UMAMIcatessen
846 S. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90015
323.782.8201

Palsaik Samgyupsal Korean BBQ: The Belly of Koreatown

Pork Belly on the Grill

If you’re not into pork belly, there are a few other things on the table that you could savor at Palsaik Samgyupsal. I’m just not convinced that this restaurant is exactly your calling.

You have to pretty much love pork belly to sustain a dinner with 8 flavors of it at its centerpiece - agree? Fortunately, none of my fellow diners were ill-informed, but equipped with nil-to-small lunches eaten that day.

Banchan

The number of marinades is a novelty for, yes, the sheer number. The garlic, miso and red pepper were the favorites in the group. The herb was unintelligible; the wine and curry flavors, fortgettable. But if you learn one thing from this post, remember that when you go back in and order the pork belly in the marinades you like the most, there are 4 strips that come with each individually-ordered flavor. Whereby the 8-marinade sampler comes with 1 strip each, we ended up essentially doubling our dinner when we went with seconds on 2 of our favorite flavors.

The secret’s in the sauce, or marinade, if you will. When Krista asked about Palsaik’s smoker when they brought out a complimentary sampling if their “smoked” flavor, our server clarified that it was a sauce. I wasn’t too surprised.

But the sides are nothing to gloss over. The banchan, while basic and few in variety, were just enough. Much like AYCE in my Korean dining experiences, gone are the superfluous small dishes earmarking quantity over quality. The pink, pickled daikon wraps; shiso leaves; and romaine leaves were really the most important accompaniments (allowing for the construction of real Korean tacos, as I say). The green onion salad, too - as if they were all a reminder to leave room for the pork belly.

Pork Bellys, Vegetables, Kimchi and Bean Sprouts

aThe hot seafood soup simmering over the table’s burner was a delicious one, leaving me craving for more. We also ordered a bowl of cold, springy buckwheat noodles that I supplied with as much mustard as my sinuses desired. I always love a good bowl of cold noodle soup to lighten up the meat load – and the chili soybean paste I put on practically every bite of pork. So much for those marinades. Habits are just so hard to break.

And so. We pressed on through 16 strips of pork belly, all 5 of us. The service was team-oriented and pretty capable, with someone coming by periodically to magically scrape the carbon traces off our draining grill with a daikon-cube-on-a-stick, curate our bellys on the grill and even cut them up into bite-sized pieces with scissors. The place is new and modern, even by outside-of-Koreatown standards, which means new fans in addition to black and white, minimalist furnishings. I surprisingly wasn’t as compelled to relegate my clothes to the hamper as urgently as I was used to. And the damage despite inadvertantly overordering food and including 2 bottles of Hite? Just $25 per person including 20% gratuity.

Oh, beautiful Koreatown.

Protip: Ladies, your seats (tree stump-like stools) open up so you can keep your purse safely inside.

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Mon – Sat

11 AM – 12 AM

Sun

11 AM – 11 PM

Palsaik Samgyupsal
863 S. Western Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90005
213.365.1750

Las Vegas, NV: Pigging Out At Cochon 555 All-Stars

Erika and Amelia of Lindy Grundy - Los Angeles, CA

Every food enthusiast knows (here in Los Angeles, anyway): Culinary events come and go, each offering its own celebration of chefs, food and wine. But nothing was about to prepare me for the best of that pig fest, Cochon 555. So named because each city it visits brings together five local chefs, five heritage pigs and five winemakers, Cochon 555 held an “all-star” edition with favorites (that is, 10 chefs, 14 pigs and 4 butchers) hailing from cities all over to Vegas, baby, Vegas.

Charcuterie from Fruition - Denver, CO

Representing Los Angeles? No chefs, alas (are we snubbed, much?). But a social media-savvy pair of talented butchers with a shop on Fairfax called Lindy & Grundy were there to perform a live butcher demonstration – with projector screen and microphone on the ready – alongside Michael Sullivan of Blackberry Farms.

Favorite bites included an impressive array of charcuterie from Fruition in Denver. With this being my first booth visit, it was good indication that I’d have a very hard time avoiding literally rolling out of the posh, velvety Cosmopolitan convention room by the end of the event.

Swiss Army Pig from The French Laundry - Napa, CA

Another standout was the Swiss Army Pig as presented by Napa’s The French Laundry – with every part of the pig included with the bite prepared with sour morello cherry, red walnuts, Dijon and thyme with a dusting of chicharron. Delicious.

Probably the most impressive presentation at Cochon All-Stars was the Prosciutto cotto tremazzini from New York City’s Del Posto, by which you wrapped a sandwich with a massive sheet of charcuterie. There were a ton of textures delivering unmatched decadence only cut by the two tiny pieces of bread.

Tarte Tartin, Chicarron Ice Cream Sandwich from Lark - Seattle, WA

My favorite Asian homage at Cochon All-Stars was the Open-faced Banh Mi from Chicago’s Stephanie Izard of Girl and the Goat. All the right Vietnamese flavors were there as was the deliciously crispy pork texture.

And if you ever doubted the concept of pork dessert, John Sundstrom (Lark – Seattle, WA) would prove you wrong. His Tarte Tartin with pork belly, pineapple and soy caramel was perfect. Also served at this booth was a decadent pork-flavored ice cream sandwich made with maracon-ish cookies on the outside. These two made up for the fact that I missed the bacon-caramel milkshake that others had been raving about, but which I forgot to check off the seemingly never-ending list of bites.

Masubi Cocktail

In-house (Cosmopolitan) restaurants were also given their due without the requisite of serving up pork. Scarpetta dished out their Short Rib Agnolotti and Blue Ribbon made hand rolls of spicy tuna and uni. Of course, I could always make room for sushi.

Cocktails were presented by Domaine de Canton, Maker’s Mark and No. 3 London Dry Gin. My favorite cocktail had to be the Domaine de Canton’s Masubi – much like a ginger pina colada. Of course, the pineapple-wrapped fried pork with rice had to be the most theme-appropriate garnish in the place.

I’ve been to many a food fest in my day, but Cochon 555 All-Stars definitely takes the cake as one of the most well run with plenty a bite left over. There were no lines and I didn’t see one booth run out of food. Admittedly, this had more to do with the fact that I had to leave 15 – 20 minutes before the end of the event or face total gastro-destruction. Thank goodness my hotel room was just a 14 floors and a tower away so I could sleep away the lethargy.

Just in time for the VIP afterparty. There were more pig bites there, too, but the party was outdoors at Overlook Bar & Grill in 105 degree Las Vegas heat. Ugh. I opted for the mojito and tequila sunrise push-up pops, instead.

VIP Ticket to Cochon 555 All-Stars and Cosmopolitan Hotel accommodations were hosted.

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Cochon 555 All-Stars at The Cosmopolitan
3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
877.551.7778

Favorite Dish: Shanghai Rice Cakes With Sponge Gourd at Ding’s Garden

Shanghai Rice Cakes With Sponge Gourd

I’ll be up front about it: We had the stinky tofu, too. It did not quite make the “favorite dish” descriptor.

But it’s an experience worth having if you haven’t, already. Just bring friends to prove you did it.

As far as what I actually liked (and not ordered with purposes of boosting street cred), I have to say that the Shanghai Rice Cakes tossed with sponge gourd (or luffa) were a standout at Ding’s Garden during our Taiwanese (and dare I admit, yes, derivative Chinese) food crawl. Perfect for reheating at home, this dish had gummier rice cakes than those at Din Tai Fung and also had a lighter sauce – and less of it. Shreddings of pork provided the flavor, and the sponge gourd was a nice recall to the xiao long bao I had at Su Hung in Taipei that were filled with this veggie in addition to pork - instead of just pork. (Su Hung is the alt. to waiting 2 hours for a seat at DTF – Taipei, by the way.)

I love this vegetable because it’s somewhat sour and unexpected, but it’s still subtle and therefore palatable to those who are curious about uncharted Asian vegetables. The gumminess of the rice cakes might put some off-guard – especially those first introduced to rice cakes by DTF – but glutinous rice is really so commonly used in the cuisine that I’m more apt to consider DTF’s over-cooked, perhaps. But, if you like the sweeter variety, stick with the always-reliable Din Tai Fung.

Try many things at Ding’s Garden, but definitely make one of those dishes these particular Shanghai Rice Cakes. You can never have too many.

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Mon – Sun

11 AM – 10 PM

Cash only

Ding’s Garden
18922 Gale Ave
Ste A
Rowland Heights, CA 91748
626.810.0600

Dose of Vitamin P: Buñuelos de “Belly” In Tijuana

Buñuelos de "Belly"

Only pork could be worthy motivation to spend a mere 8 hours south of the border. Last night’s trip was my first time crossing that border – and it was well worth it. Bill of Street Gourmet LA guided Jo of My Last Bite, Fiona of Gourmet Pigs (ha ha) and me around that Northern Mexican city and I can vouch that he is an invaluable guide to have.

The flyer said “Pork 5 Ways” and indeed, there were 5 chefs, but there were more than 5 ways in which pig was prepared. My favorite dish was the dessert – and I loved that it being dessert was nary a reason to cop out of the theme. It blew my mind in execution.

The Buñuelos itself was a crunchy, crispy wafer with hints of cinnamon and sat on top of braised, soft pork belly. The pork belly itself wasn’t marinated in anything especially remarkable and was allowed to stand on its own, with the assembly on the plate carrying it through. The sweet agave syrup drizzled over the dish was just the right amount of sweetness to not make it saccharine. It was also infused with bacon, which matched the depth and heft of the dish. But the perfect touch? The ginger and lemon grass ice cream. The refreshing, cold notes of the ice cream brought perfect highlights, really finishing the dessert off nicely with some kick.

This dish was brought to us by Chef Paul Zamudio of Cabo San Lucas, who also prepared delicious pork cheeks sous vide – another one of my favorites for the night. I hope that the border doesn’t continue to separate his cooking from my palate – but I’m sure that Bill will see to it that it doesn’t.

By the way, this post is dedicated to Josh of Food GPS, whose love of pig consumption (and his detailing the best dishes in his Dose of Vitamin P series) has always inspired this particular Tijuana crew. We were sad to hear of his recent week of disappointing pork dishes, and thought he had somehow “taken one for the team” since our pork dishes in Tijuana were so successful. So thanks, Josh.

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Held December 8, 2010

Villa Saverios
Blvd. Sanchez Taboada Esq. Escuadron 201 Zona Rio
Tijuana, México

Ramen Jinya Is Good For Your Ramen Fix

Tonkatsu Premium Ramen

I’ve had a lot of ramen. Truth be told, those bowls of ramen don’t come from very many places. My inaugural non-Top Ramen bowl was at Shin-sen-gumi in Arcadia, but my favorite is (and the majority of those aforementioned bowls were from) Santouka with their Shio broth being the trump card to my ramen cravings. With those locations being San Gabriel and the Westside – and my new apartment being in Hollywood proper with Torrance and Gardena even further away – I became eager for other options. Ramen Jinya does a great job filling in.

Curry

Another confession: I have a bias against chicken broth ramen. Give me that chashu in all forms – fatty pork slices and fatty pork bone broth. So while Ramen Jinya is like Ramen California (so I have heard, haven’t tried) in offering chicken broth options, I just have a hard time making the leap. So Tonkatsu and Premium (bonito-infused) Tonkatsu ramen it is. With, perhaps, a side of curry. In retrospect, it’s not the most complementary side you can order with ramen, but I can always eat curry. For everyone else, I’d go with the gyoza. They’re bite size, but they’re good and have a proper crisp on the outside and a hot center. (Unfortunately, I was off form on my first visit and don’t have a picture.) As far as price point, you can get a salad, side and ramen combo for $13.50 and a bowl of ramen alone for $8.50.

I’m not sure where my menma (bamboo shoots) were, and the egg was perhaps a little stale, but the broth was solid and less salty on my second visit than my first – a good thing. It could maybe use more body, though I did like the Premium broth better than the regular Tonkotsu. A bonus: You’ll find yourself scooping soup less since the spoons are so big. The noodles, though, are my favorite thing about Ramen Jinya, and house made from what I could tell. They have good bite yet are plump enough to keep you satisfied.

Ramen Jinya is great for this South Bay-averse ramen lover. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be adventurous enough to try the chicken. According to a tweet of Mattatouille’s, however, I hear that the newly-opened Robata Jinya on 3rd Street offers their restaurant family’s ramen – and I just so happen to work in Beverly Hills. Even better. Who can argue with accessible, good ramen?

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Sun – Thur 11 AM – 10 PM
Fri – Sat 11 AM – Midnight

Ramen Jinya
11239 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City,CA 91604
818.980.3977

Chef Remi Lauvand: The Love Is Under the Lid At Café Pierre

Foie Gras Spread
Foie Parfait (pear compote, mini brioche)

There’s a clean cut quality about the space and atmosphere inside Manhattan Beach’s Café Pierre that somehow I can’t match up with Chef Remi Lauvand’s unbridled passion for food. But if you are paying attention, you’ll notice that each dish, when brought out to the table, has been handled with the utmost care. No corners are cut on ingredients or preparation.

Foie On Brioche

That is, dish or canister.

The canister beholding the foie gras was one that never closed. Well, neither did the one containing the pigs trotter. Nor the head cheese or duck rillettes. If you have concern for sustainability, no need to worry at Cafe Pierre – they use the entire animal. We only had occasion to slow the rate at which we sampled by having to avoid the tiny bones in the anchovies – also stuffed into an identical glass jar. Presentation may not be everything, but the freshness of the dishes is consistent with their preservation inside the sealed jars. Frisee is often paired with each taste so as to cut through the vibrancy of each animal “cut.”

Grilled Octopus

And if you have trouble deciding which other starters to head off your “starter jars,” go for the Veal Sweetbreads or Cote de Boeuf, complete with bone marrow. The Grilled Octopus is probably the most tender octopus I’ve ever had, with an excellent, mild but intriguing flavor.  The jalapeno veal, while ambitious, was a bit weird. But you’d be remiss if you overlooked the pork at Cafe Pierre. We enjoyed a slice of pork tenderloin (Guess what? It was very tender) from a very special acorn-fed hog by Jude Becker – of which there only exist probably a hundred this round.

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